With the 2013 mayoral election about 15 months away, Democrats are anxious to regain control of City Hall. It’s been a long 20 years in the wilderness for them, and a particularly frustrating period, given that Democrats dramatically outnumber Republicans 6–1 in the five boroughs.
While many political observers have theorized why the mayoralty has eluded Democrats for decades, based on the campaigns of the current crop of candidates for the nomination it appears that Democrats have not learned any lessons during the two decades they’ve been denied the position they so covet.
Indeed, so flawed are the candidates’ approaches that even though no Republican contender has surfaced, the Democrats still don’t have a lock on City Hall next fall. This is because the current front-runners are not only products of the same old-style, political clubhouses but they are still trying to win by running the same dusty playbook and pandering to the same constituencies to which they always cater.
Republicans have won every mayoral race since 1993 because they established themselves citywide as rational, moderate alternatives to the ideological extremism of their Democratic opponents. Nonetheless, in seeking their party’s 2013 nomination the Democrats’ game plan is once again to move so far to the left that any and all hope for a sophisticated debate on the issues is thrown right out the window.
What will be the biggest influences on the New York City Democratic primary for mayor? Well, usually in a race of this importance, money would be front and center, but because of the city’s campaign-finance system, which offers 6–1 matching funds, all of the top-tier candidates are expected to “max out,” meaning that none of them will have a monetary advantage.
Assuming an even financial footing between the candidates, the next most significant factor in the race will be the unions. Unions may be getting knocked around on the national level, but here in New York City they are as influential as ever. The reason is they offer a lot more than just money; it’s their phone banks, ground troops and, most of all, their ability to turn out their membership to vote that every candidate is salivating over.
So what does it matter to the candidates if they have to make promises or say things that are not in the city’s best interest to play up to what the labor bosses want to hear? What’s a little pandering to unions like the United Federation of Teachers, SEIU 1199 and Local 32BJ? After all, whoever receives their support is that much more likely to win the nomination.
The front-runner is always in the most precarious position, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s predicament is particularly difficult to navigate. To her credit, she has worked very hard to strike a balance between her duty to govern and her bid for mayor. But unfortunately right now she is paying a price for acting responsibly. Instead of celebrating her laudable working relationship with the mayor, Quinn is being forced to defend it to kowtow to the powerful interests on the left that despise Bloomberg.
Quinn has also had to address the often unexpected influences that prominent outsiders can play in the race. Just last month Gloria Steinem very publicly called out Quinn on the paid-sick-leave bill, threatening to withdraw her previously announced support for Quinn if the speaker refused to bring the legislation to a vote. Needless to say, Quinn’s opponents jumped all over the challenge, leaving the speaker to fret over just how valuable the support of a single, albeit very influential, person is worth.
There is, however, one individual’s endorsement that is unquestionably worthwhile and would alter the race considerably—an endorsement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Though it is unlikely that he will endorse in a primary, the candidates would all be wise to heed his positions in relationship to their own.
As the current crop of mayoral hopefuls continues to pander and move too far to the left—and given how early it is, the odds are they will only go farther—they leave the door wide open for a fiscally responsible Democrat to enter the primary race, or a Republican to beat them in the general election, once again locking the Democrats out of City Hall.
Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican consultant and founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies, a full-service strategic communications firm.
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